The Academy is out of excuses for the 95th Oscars

March 10, 2023 — by Shaan Sridhar
Photo by Minsui Tang
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
This year’s Best Picture nominees are better than previous years, even if they still have problems and omissions.

After the dreary box office months of January and February, it’s finally time to return to the Academy Awards, now it’s 95th edition, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and live on ABC at 5 p.m. on March 12. I watched all of this year’s Best Picture nominees — you know, the movies you only hear about after they win. I did this because I know most others won’t, and because I have some newfound time as a second semester senior. 

And I’ll be honest: Surprisingly, this year’s crop isn’t half bad.

That statement is qualified, of course. The quality of movies released in 2022 was undoubtedly a far cry from previous years and decades, and a strong decrease from recent shows like in 2020, which saw “Parasite,” “Ford v. Ferrari” and “1917.” However, this year’s Best Picture nominees do actually reflect the past year’s best offerings, with plenty of the normal elitist snob-inees — though not as much as usual.

This year’s list is a real mix. There are the typical choices like the not-nonfiction “TÁR” and dreary “Women Talking.” There’s a eclectic biopic in “Elvis,” plus the annual self-indulging film about the film industry itself: “The Fabelmans” (which also shows director Steven Spielberg’s unfortunate experiences at our school in the ‘60s). Then there are the highbrow think pieces in “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Triangle of Sadness,” plus the one foreign pick in “All Quiet on the Western Front.” There are even two major blockbusters: “Top Gun: Maverick” (the second-highest grossing film of 2022) and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (the highest-grossing film of 2022). And, of course, the awards darling with too-good-to-be-true backstories: “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (my personal favorite).

What makes this year special is that many of the nominees actually deserve the Oscar. Again — I can’t emphasize this enough — that’s a rare fear for a body like the Academy. But also, again, there are still some issues. Let’s explore.

Problem No. 1: Some of the movies still won’t wow many audiences. Yes, I know I just rambled on how “many of the nominees” deserve the recognition — but that’s “many” and not “all,” meaning there are some that don’t. These subpar movies are “Elvis” and “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

Director Baz Luhrman has yet to make a great movie in his career and he sure didn’t do it with “Elvis.” I’ll admit, Austin Butler was fantastic (so good his Elvis voice is permanent now) and deserves the recognition that he is getting from acting guilds. However, the film failed at its principle goal of portraying Elvis Presley’s life, instead delivering a shockingly long orgy of loud visuals masquerading as a biopic when it’s really a meta-drama mangled through the lens of a horrible Tom Hanks performance as Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s dishonest and manipulative manager.

As for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” I’m not sure what the British and Irish see here. It follows a friendship (one we never get to see) that goes bad (inexplicably) in the opening minutes of the movie. The viewer wastes literal hours watching one friend become a desperate pest and other lose their mind while cutting off their fingers — all put together with a “fecking” accent. Sure, the acting was well done but the film was a serious bore. On reflection, it could be an interesting commentary on the Irish Civil War, if only the commentary was understandable and the stakes were shared by the characters and audience.

Other nominees, while not terrible, aren’t necessarily fantastic either. Take “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a great war pic that drags on too long and covers a trail already blazed by films like “1917” (though this one is still deserving of a watch). “TÁR” is nearly three hours of straight music-nerd dialogue, but it’s backed up by a career-defining performance from Cate Blanchett as the titular Lydia Tár, a fictional, turbulent and sexually harassing “maestro” of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Now, let’s move on to Problem No. 2: Why can’t the Academy learn to love other popular genres? I’m talking about animation, action and superheroes.

Throughout the Oscar nomination process, Guilermo del Toro — the director of “Pinocchio,” a nominee for Best Animated Feature — continuously harped on his fellow Academy members that animation is film. You might think, “DUH!” But animation films almost never get nominated for Best Picture, even when they’re often among the best films of every year. A couple misses here: the aforementioned “Pinocchio” and Pixar’s “Turning Red,” of which the latter is particularly relevant to students and families in the Bay Area.

And then there are the action and superhero flicks. No, I’m arguing that “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” deserved a nomination, even though it got close. I’m here to vouch for “The Batman” and “The Woman King,” both of which are among the best films I saw last year, and all accomplish the things the Oscars should love: accessibility, stakes and great message. But both of these films were basically shut out, not just in Best Picture but in most other categories as well. That’s a serious issue, especially given that “The Woman King” — directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Viola Davis — was one of the only Black and female-led movies of the year, along with the Emmet Till biopic “Till” (also shutout).

These problems aside, there is a lot of potential when it comes to Oscars night. “Top Gun: Maverick” might be the most crowd-pleasing movie in recent history, even if it isn’t groundbreaking. “Avatar: The Way of Water” continues a marvelous feat of visual technology, and is one of few outstandingly long films that actually earns its runtime. “Triangle of Sadness” is a timely commentary on not just our current social systems, but whether righteous arguments to improve them really vibe with the core of humanity — this film will make you think. And “Women Talking,” as sad as it may be, masterfully portrays the events of Mennonite secret meetings.

And then, of course, there is “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (EEAAO). In terms of quality, critical reception and awards, EEAAO is by far and away the frontrunner. It’s an inventive film that combines the excitement of recent action and superhero movies with the grounding drama of a think piece. It has the emotions of a Pixar movie, the action of a superhero flick, the weirdness of an indie and the message of an Oscar winner. Plus, its cast is pure joy: Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh lead an ensemble who truly deserve their moment in the spotlight.

So, yes, the Oscars still have issues, but this year a lot has gone right with the nominees and, for most other categories, this holds the same.

But things are looking good for the 95th Academy Awards. The pandemic is over, Will Smith will not be in attendance and there’s a new crisis team to ensure everything goes well. Plus, the nominees are solid. In other words, the show has no excuses for a major screw-up. Whether they do or not, I’ll be watching — and will be back with a judgment.

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